Over a month has passed since the start of the NBA free agency period and one acclaimed player is still unsigned: power forward Tristan Thompson, who made a name for himself this past season playing alongside LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When the free agency period began, it was widely assumed that the Cavaliers and Thompson would reach an agreement quickly in the five-year $80-$90 million range. Then, following their agreement, James, who has the same agent as Thompson, would re-sign with the Cavaliers for one year with a player option. He could then opt out again next summer and sign a max deal with the upcoming increased NBA salary cap.
For Cleveland, it has not exactly worked as anticipated regarding Thompson. James has already agreed to return to the Cavaliers with a one-year maximum deal with a player option, but Thompson remains without a team.
Even though the big man is still on the market as a restricted free agent, Cavaliers fans have nothing to worry about in regards to whether he will return for this upcoming season. LeBron also seemed confident that Thompson will return to Cleveland in a Twitter Q-and-A session where a fan asked LeBron if he thinks Thompson will re-sign. LeBron replied, “Yeah of course he will. Means way too much to our team’s success!”
Thompson has no leverage with other franchises as almost all of them would not be able to sign him due to their current salary cap limitations. In addition, he would not want to take the chance of signing with a different team and having the risk of the Cavaliers of not matching his offer, even though Cleveland would likely match any offer sheet.
Thompson does own leverage to get his asking price from Cleveland, and it may surprise some. For the past month after Thompson realized he would not get what he was originally asking for, whether it was a full max contract or close to one, he has threatened to accept the Cavaliers’ qualifying offer. This means he would sign for one year and $7.2 million, which is a heavy pay cut from what he would get if he and Cleveland reached an agreement.
After playing out this one-year contract, Thompson would then be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. Next summer is also when the NBA salary cap will rise under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, allowing Thompson to possibly sign for much more money than he would receive this summer. Not only does Thompson have the ability to then sign with any team as an unrestricted free agent, he has more leverage than he does this summer to get what he is asking for from the Cavaliers.
Matthew Dellavedova, also a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was in a similar situation as Thompson this summer. Reports stated that Dellavedova was asking for money in the $3-$5 million per year range, but he ended up signing his qualifying offer for $1.2 million, allowing him to be an unrestricted free agent next season.
Thompson has already bet on himself once last year when he reportedly declined a four-year, $52 million contract extension. If Thompson does accept the qualifying offer, he risks injury or poor performance, which would take a hit on his value next July.
Cleveland’s front office executives have to weigh the decision whether to give in and pay Thompson what he is asking for or if they think he is bluffing about possibly taking the qualifying offer. The only question regarding Thompson at this point is not where he will play next season, but for how much money he will play for.